Some of world’s forests reversing centuries of decline, UN report says

Managing forests protects precious water supplies

13 March 2007 – Although the world’s forests are shrinking yearly overall, a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report released today offers cause for optimism, showing that in some regions, centuries of deforestation are being reversed thanks to effective forest management and economic prosperity.

“Many countries have shown the political will to improve forest management by revising policies and legislation and strengthening forestry institutions,” FAO Deputy Director-General David Harcharik said. “Increasing attention is being paid to the conservation of soil, water, biological diversity and other environmental values.”

He also pointed out that countries facing the most serious challenges in achieving sustainable forest management are those with the highest rates of poverty and civil conflict.

Forests cover roughly 4 billion hectares, or 30 per cent, of the earth’s land, and the FAO states that in the period between 1990 and 2005, the world lost three per cent of its forests, average 0.2 per cent each year.

Between 2000 and 2005, 57 countries reported an increase in forest area while 83 claimed a decrease. Forests disappear at a rate of 7.3 hectares per year or 20,000 hectares, approximately twice the size of Paris, daily.

In Asia and the Pacific, forest area increased from 2000 and 2005, unlike in previous decades. Although deforestation accelerated in South-East Asia, this was offset by new large forest plantations in China. Europe and North America also demonstrated gains in forest area.

Also in this period, of the 10 countries which collectively house 80 per cent of the world’s primary forests, four – Indonesia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea and Brazil – saw the largest losses in forest area.

Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean faced the highest losses in forest area. African forests, accounting for 16 per cent of the world’s total, lost 9 per cent between 1990 and 2005, while Latin America and the Caribbean, with 47 per cent of the world’s forests, also lost forest area.

The FAO expects that forest management will improve in both regions, thanks to political support and commitment to stemming deforestation in Africa and newly-formed Latin American networks to fight fires and improve current management mechanisms.

Economic growth contributes to curbing deforestation by improving conditions for sustainable forest management, the report says. Strengthened forest institutions and increased participatory decision-making will also help to protect forests.

However, illegal logging is growing in some areas, and forests are also threatened by insects and diseases. The spread of pests, to which forests are vulnerable, is facilitated by transport, travel and trade.

Climate change could also endanger forests, as a warmer climate may increase the severity of forest fires, pests and diseases, the FAO reports.

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